Himalayan glaciers may disappear within decades: UN

March 18th, 2008 - 5:15 pm ICT by admin  

New York, March 18 (IANS) Himalayan glaciers are melting fast and may disappear within decades, affecting as many as 750 million people downstream who depend on the glacial melt for their water, according to a new UN report. Rivers in the region such as the Ganga, the Indus and the Brahmaputra, as well as others criss-crossing northern India may soon become seasonal rivers - a development that has ramifications for poverty and the economies in the region, warns the report released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

On the Indian subcontinent, the report said, people in the Himalaya and Hindu Kush regions and those downstream who rely on glacial waters would be seriously affected.

The trend in the Himalayas is reflective of glaciers worldwide that are melting at more than double the rates existing until a few years ago, warns the report, based on data from 30 locations across nine mountain ranges.

The average glacier shrank 1.4 metres in 2006, compared to half a metre in 2005 and 0.3 metres in the eighties and the nineties.

Some of the most dramatic shrinking has taken place in Europe, with Norway’s Breidalblikkbrea glacier thinning by close to 3.1 metres during 2006, compared with a thinning of 0.3 metres in 2005.

The report is based on findings of the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) - a centre based at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and supported by UNEP. It has been tracking the fate of glaciers for over a century.

“The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight,” said Wilfried Haeberli, WGMS director.

Head of UNEP Achim Steiner said: “Millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry and power generation during key parts of the year.”

A two degree Celsius warming by the 2040s is likely to lead to sharply reduced summer flows in most rivers fed by glaciers, which will coincide with sharply rising demand for water.

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